October marks five years that we have inhabited this land, working towards creating a sustainable off-grid homestead on the five acres put into our care. As is often the case, this series is me stumbling through the agrarian process, finding my way through the dirt, in words.
* * *
She stands at the kitchen sink with me before sunrise to wash dishes in fuzzy pajamas. When she gets cold I wrap her in my sweater and, after a few moments alone on a homemade bench, she says “Mommy will you hold me?”. The dishes are thick, the coffee is hot, and the rest of the house sleeps but one does not say no to a Ruthie Bear snuggle. At least not if said one is me.
We wrap eggs from our hens in homemade corn tortillas and call it breakfast alongside a glass of homegrown goat kefir. The weather is warm, the kind of Indian summer I never could have imagined back in the land of ten thousand lakes. Indian summer there was an October day over seventy, or maybe my memory betrays me.
Stewart takes the children to pick up a load of firewood so I sink into the silence to work on some book edits. It’s hard not to think about that dish pile while I’m sitting under the laptop, but losing the quiet would be like squandering the daylight, so I type.
I hadn’t been to the garden in at least a day and upon their return we venture out, Joshie in the stroller, Ruthie’s hand finding mine. “I like holding hands… and dancing,” she declares. Me too, baby. Me too.
Five years we have worked this land and most of those years I have bolstered myself on the way to the garden, expecting another pest problem, lost crop, or fruitless planting. These findings have edified my spirit in ways I didn’t even know I needed. The seeming failure has been a gift in the way that hard times often are.
This year, however, the Lord has given us something different.
I get to the chicken field and find a bed of kale I could pick from everyday for weeks and still not exhaust. The sweet potato patch was picked – probably over 100 pounds worth – and is now sprouting garlic. The next bed holds a dozen or so cabbages alongside beets and cilantro. The turnip bed is overwhelmingly thick and the sole collard has leaves as big as my baby.
That is how you measure such things, isn’t it?
I head to the pallet garden to pick big handfuls of okra and black-eyed peas. The mustard and broccoli patches will be thinned to make a potluck salad for the weekend. Cilantro, too, needs thinning. The green onions are coming up and the lettuce will be ready for picking in a few weeks, Lord willing.
I fill the stroller with turnips and kale; okra and black-eyed peas. Lunch and supper will contain a great deal of homegrown food, I realize, possibly for the first time ever since endeavoring to do such a work as this. I stop and talk to Stewart and tell him the many things I could pick, if I wanted to; how this garden is like visiting a farmer’s market which is kind of like a dream.
He knows, of course, what all is out there because he and the children planted most all of it. They do the hard work; I just pick and make and ferment and bring it to the table three times a day.
I remember, in the years before we moved here, how the desire of our hearts was not to farm for profit nor to make a decent living, as they say. I wouldn’t even go so far to say we desired to wrest a life from the land on which we lived. What we wanted, for more reasons than I’ll state here and now, is to have a way of life in which we could work alongside of our children, knowing that they were in fact our most important work.
Loving and teaching them is our first ministry, you might say.
We have seen our homestead grow from two to five acres. The Lord has granted that we build a homemade house, create a pasture for goats, add chicken coops and gardens. We are just beginning to grow some of our own food on a regular basis. We have a lot more work to do on these five acres.
We have also grown our family from four to seven in the time that we’ve lived here. I don’t pretend to know much about parenting, except that I fail at it a whole lot. What I do know – at least what I think I know – is that children don’t need much. What they do need, and what the Lord has graciously granted us more and more of throughout these five years, is time.
Time to plant and tend and be alongside us. Time to grow and learn and work alongside us. Time to struggle and cry and seek alongside us.
We have been given a lot of gifts throughout this agrarian journey but the gift of working alongside them, this has been one of our most precious.